MICK O’DWYER’S old pupils in Laois showed in Dr Cullen Park on Saturday that they haven’t forgotten what they learned from him and that they are maintaining progress under one of his former players in Kerry.
It’s why they are back in the semi-finals of the GAA Leinster football championship, lucky that they put enough scores on the board in the first half to sustain their challenge and very much relieved that gallant Wicklow weren’t able to capitalise on even one of four goal chances.
While Liam Kearns was haunted by the thought that their inconsistency and some very poor finishing in the second half could have cost them, he has the assurance of knowing that there are aspects of their play that can be improved and that they will be stronger once they have all their players available.
O’Dwyer took his team’s defeat on the chin, but admitted to a sense of frustration that they can’t build on what they have achieved.
“Would we like another chance in the qualifiers, of course we would,’’ he commented. “We would have done very well if the qualifiers were available because we’d have another game — and we’d improve in every game. But, we’re finished with football for the year. Crazy.”
While Wicklow came agonisingly close to salvaging a draw, in reality the game was won and lost in the first half hour, at the end of which Laois led 0-8 to 0-2.
O’Dwyer admitted this, saying he had given his players ‘a bit of a dressing down’ at half-time. “We weren’t winning any breaks around the middle, that was the biggest problem we had. Laois seemed to be that little bit sharper, but that sharpness would come from playing in the first division — and we were down in the doldrums in the fourth division.’’
At their best, Laois were indeed in a different class, with Tom Kelly, for instance, back to his best at right half-back after coming out of retirement. The strong play of rising star John O’Loughlin at midfield was enhanced by the performance of newcomer Kevin Meaney (a replacement for Pauric Clancy) and Ross Munnelly excelled in attack with five points from play. And while he didn’t score, Billy Sheehan made a major contribution, just as Michael Tierney was doing before he was forced off injured.
From his perspective, Liam Kearns felt that their ‘more methodical football’ should have earned them more scores, agreeing that they kicked too many wides (15 in total).
Trailing 0-9 to 0-4 at half-time, Wicklow managed four points in the first 15 minutes of the second half, which indicated a general improvement and some excellent play from Tommy Walsh at midfield. However, they conceded two during the same period and were to be frustrated by their failure to wipe out the deficit — which around the three-quarters stage seemed to be beyond their competence.
Key forward Paul Earls revealed that O’Dwyer’s positive message during the break had boosted the team.
“He talked about getting the breaking ball and how we were to move the ball. We paid heed to him and we started to claw our way back into the game.’’ However, he acknowledged that the tightness of the Laois marking in defence had been a contributory factor in them not being able to get the ball in the net. “They closed down our lads when they did get in ‘one on one’ goal chances,’’ he said. In the face of increasing pressure, Laois retained their composure and they were to benefit from the late introduction of Clancy. However, they weren’t as fluent in attack and poor kicking aided the Wicklow recovery.
While they were never nearer than three points for half an hour, their bravery ultimately saw them reduce the margin to a single point with injury time looming. And, before that, the crossbar cruelly denied midfielder James Stafford a certain goal.
Scorers for Laois: R. Munnelly 0-5; B. McCormack 0-3; M. Tierney 0-2; J. O’Loughlin, T. Kelly, B. Brennan, C. Kelly and P. McMahon 0-1 each.
Wicklow: T. Hannon 0-7 (0-2 frees, 0-2 ‘45’s); P. Earls and L. Glynn 0-2 each; D. Odlum and C. Walsh 0-1 each.
LAOIS: M. Nolan; C. Healy, M. Timmons, J. Higgins; T. Kelly, D. Rooney, P. McMahon; K. Meaney, J. O’Loughlin; B. Sheehan, B. McCormack, R. Munnelly; M. Tierney, C. Kelly, C. Parkinson.
Subs: B. Brennan for Tierney (injured, 21; P. Clancy for Parkinson (55); P. O’Leary for Sheehan (69); P. Lawlor for Munnelly (71).
WICKLOW: M. Travers; C. Hyland, D. Power, A. Byrne; M. McLoughlin, D. Ó hAnnaidh (capt), P. Dalton; J. Stafford, T. Walsh; T. Hannon, L. Glynn, J.P. Dalton; D. Odlum, S. Furlong, P. Earls.
Subs: B. McGrath for Dalton (29); T. Gill for Odlum (49); R. Nolan for McLoughlin (57).
Referee: P. McEnaney (Monaghan).
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